Little did John Mincher know as a curious 15-year-old that when he poked his head into the open door of the Youngstown (Ohio) Playhouse, he would be entering a career that continues to pique his interest 65 years later.
“They were working on the sets for The Glass Menagerie,” Mincher recalled. “I walked into the theatre and heard someone yelling to me, ‘Don’t just stand there. Come down here and help me.’ I did and I loved it!”
He said he didn’t know that such work even existed, but he worked at the theatre— one of the oldest and highly regarded community theatres in the country—until he left for college at Kent State. There, he was studying to become an English teacher.
“There really weren’t many schools who offered programs in technical theatre,” he said. “It wouldn’t have been a disaster if I ended up as a high school English teacher but I really loved working in the theatre.” Mincher came to SUNY Oswego in 1963 on the promise that he would have direct input into the design and equipping of the new Waterman Theatre in Tyler Hall.
“The college never broke that promise,” he said. “The architect on the new arts building was Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, a world famous firm from New York City. They had established a new campus of solid bunkerlike buildings that was unified and solid – a look that evoked strength in our extreme winter climate.”
Mincher worked on the design and development of the theatre, which was named one of the 50 best constructed in the United States when it opened.
Last fall, he returned to campus to see the newly renovated Waterman Theatre open, 45 years after its initial opening with the production of Guys and Dolls to watch a fresh interpretation of The Wizard of Oz.
“It’s wonderful seeing this newspace,” he said. “Technology and theaters have evolved so much since the theatre first opened. Waterman Theatre has proven to be an extremely useful tool in the creation of Oswego’s professional grade students, and the facility more than served its intended purpose over those years.”
He was also integral to the development of the technical theatre program and often called on the skills of hard-working students, including George Dummitt ’69, Bill Stark ’68, Jon Vermilye ’66 and Ken Stone ’68, who all went on to have professional or educational careers in theatre. “I worked those poor students to death,” he remembered. “I believed they could do anything, and they did. They were unbelievable, and many of them made their way to work on Broadway productions.”
Theatre professor Kitty Macey, who was hired by Mincher, said that Mincher created some of her favorite production designs, including for a production of the musical Godspell, whose set design, she said, was simple, symbolic and powerful.
That’s exactly what Mincher intends his designs to be. “If the scenic design dominates the production, then I failed,” Mincher said. “The design should enhance, not dominate. Scenic design is an intellectual exercise. You get to work with some of the greatest literature ever written and you get to interpret it and make it into a visual rendering.”
Today, Mincher, who lives in Florida, still turns to the arts for entertainment and personal endeavor; he is writing a history of his family and he paints landscapes and portraits in watercolors and oils. He recently established a scholarship at SUNY Oswego in memory of his late wife, Sandra Kelly Mincher ’65.